Short-lived political formation of leftist Jews in the USSR in 1919. As World War I drew to a close in November 1918, the tensions among Jewish socialist parties in Ukraine regarding the Bolshevik revolution and the Soviet regime came out into the open. Communist uprisings in Germany, which seemed to support the Bolshevik prognosis that the revolution would spread across Europe, together with the growing stability of the Bolshevik government, intensified inter- and intraparty conflict. Jews were increasingly fearful of persecution and distrusted the Ukrainian powers who opposed the Bolsheviks.
By the end of 1918, three factions had formed in the Kiev branch of the Bund—the most important branch in Ukraine. The left identified ideologically with the Communists while insisting on the Bund’s right to act independently within the Jewish community. The center was critical of Bolshevism’s disregard for democracy, but doubted the possibility of establishing a democratic regime in Ukraine. The right opposed Bolshevism but not the revolution. In the wake of revolutionary episodes in Germany, the center moved closer to the left, enabling the latter to become dominant. In early 1919, the branch held a general meeting at which the majority supported a proposal “that the Kiev branch of the Bund proclaim itself to be the Kiev branch of the Communist Bund.” As a result of this vote, the branch was split between Communist and regular Bundists. The Kiev branch also decided upon the party’s new name, Idisher Komunistisher Arbeter-Bund, or Kombund for short. By retaining the word Bund, the party preserved its ties with its past and enjoyed the support of nearly half the Bund’s former members.
The Kombund sought to join with the two other Jewish socialist parties, Po‘ale Tsiyon and the Fareynikte. Negotiations with Po‘ale Tsiyon failed because of Po‘ale Tsiyon’s refusal to abandon its territorial solution to the question of Jewish nationalism. However, various changes within the Fareynikte led to a rapprochement first with the Bund and later with the Kombund. By the end of 1918, the party had already split into left, center, and right factions. At the Third Conference of the Fareynikte in early 1919, the left constituted the largest faction and organized itself as a separate party: the Fareynikte Yidishe Komunistishe Partey (United Jewish Communist Party). The new party immediately answered the Kombund’s call for discussions on overall unification. In May, the conferences of the Kombund and the United Jewish Communist Party, held simultaneously, approved the unification agreement, and on 22 May the founding conference of the Yidisher Komunistisher Farband in Ukraine, or Komfarband, took place.
The party adopted the Bolshevik platform and expressed confidence that ethnic discrimination would be abolished. However, it protested inequities in the treatment of Yiddish. The conference advocated joining the Communist Party of Ukraine on the condition that its branches were recognized as Jewish sections within the party.
On 16 July 1919, the Komfarband approached the Ukrainian Communist Party and suggested opening discussions for joining it en bloc. This was unacceptable to the Ukrainian Communists, who expressed their doubts as to the sincerity of the Komfarband’s identification with the Soviet regime because of the Jewish party’s preoccupation with national concerns. Nevertheless, under pressure from the Russian Communist Party, the Ukrainians revised their attitude and, as a conciliatory gesture, proposed that the Komfarband be represented on the central executive committee of the Ukrainian Soviet government. Thus the Komfarband maintained its independence briefly, but discussion of the subject was not over. In August 1919 the Ukrainian Communist Party formulated its conditions for the Komfarband’s entry into the party: the Komfarband as an organization would be dissolved; members would be admitted on an individual basis by a special committee that would include former members of the Komfarband’s central committee; and the recommendations of the admissions committee had to be approved by the central committee of the Ukrainian Communist Party. Some Komfarband leaders were promised roles in running the Jewish sections (which were merely a formal apparatus of the Party Orgburo [organizational bureau]), although only until the next elections. On 20 August, the Central Committee of the Komfarband accepted these conditions and proclaimed the party’s dissolution.
Arye Gelbard, Sofo she-lo ki-teḥilato: Kitso shel ha-‘Bund’ ha-Rusi (Tel Aviv, 1995); Zvi Y. Gitelman, Jewish Nationality and Soviet Politics: The Jewish Sections of the CPSU, 1917–1930 (Princeton, 1972).
Translated from Hebrew by Anna Barber